BCM215 Week One: Introduction and Overview

Introduction and Overview

Last Updated July 13, 2019

Note: The slides for this lecture are available here. Square Brackets [in the text] indicate slide transitions.

[Subject Description]

This subject investigates the emergence of digital game cultures as a key element of the global creative economy.

We analyse games from the perspectives of both players and industries, situating them within a continuum of human play activities and examining the trajectory of the commercial games industry from early forms of console gaming to contemporary forms, such as apps, eSports, board games and live streaming.

In addition to covering topical issues such as violence in video games and game censorship, students will acquire practical skills in-game media production by collaborating on a digital artefact specific to the game industries.

This subject is design for students familiar with games, their histories, markets and cultures, but also as a learning experience for students whose knowledge of the game industries is more peripheral and less participatory.

[Subject Learning Outcomes]

On successful completion of this subject, students will be able to:

1. Engage in research to critically analyse and discuss implications and issues within the global game industries;

2. Present a critical analysis of a digital game or game media practice;

3. Demonstrate digital literacies in the preparation and delivery of a public digital artefact addressing a topic relevant to the game industries.

[What is Game Media?]

Game media is an [umbrella term] that encompasses the diverse and multiple elements of the game’s industry global success.

Game media refers to the [hardware] layer: the physical and material components of video game consoles, computers, controllers, chips and even the internet servers and cloud storage that enables digital distribution and social interaction through multiplayer online chat.

Game media refers to the [software] layer: the code, apps, the platforms and programs which operate to provide players with engaging experiences.

Game media refers to the [content] layer: the presence of visual and sound design, the character and level design, as well as the embedded narrative and world-building that shapes and enhances the player’s experience.

Game media refers to the official [promotional] layer which encircles the hardware and software layers: this includes the advertising, merchandising and marketing, journalism, criticism and review, which supports the consumer’s understanding and awareness of the current state of the industry and its products.

Game media refers to the [cultural] layer: the massive degree of cultural productions that includes online videos, podcasts and social media discussions, and the participatory culture that is central to the experience of games and their play shared through cosplay, wikis, social media and other channels.

[Creative Industry]

The next time this subject runs it will have a slight change to its name, instead of just Game Media, it will be Game Media Industries. The addition of there term ‘industry’ is significant. It is my response to response to feedback from our Hong Kong partner, as this subject will be offered in Hong Kong and South West Sydney UOW campuses in 2020, that we need to highlight to all students that this subject seeks to understand and engage with game media, not through coding but through research and critical analysis.

The primary goal of this subject is to teach you how to research and analyse games media, which means the industry part of games media industry does not simply refer to the industrial production of video game hardware and software, but to understand how games media functions more broadly as a major creative industry.

[Fordist Production/Assembly line]

The word ‘industry’ is typically associated with mass production, labour, and Fordism. Henry Ford was an American industrialist who founded the Ford Motor Company, one of the hundreds of small automobile producers operating at the start of the 20th Century. Ford did not invent or create the production line, but he did use it to transform the automobile from a rare, luxury good into a mass-produced commodity, a personal transport convenience which fundamentally changed the world. Other industries, existed prior to this innovation, as the core production of goods and services was one of the fundamental organising principles of society emerging out of the industrial revolution in the 19th Century. It was Fordism however, that epitomised the mass production of manufacturing, by standardising parts, decreasing assembly costs, and reducing the role of individual knowledge and expertise of workers. Manufacturing became as important an industry as coal and steel, as it reduces the costs of goods.  The affordability of cheaply produced goods became synonymous with low wages and a linear production chain.

This system of mass production and standardisation was adopted universally, and where it applies to music, television, film, and advertising, sport and the performing arts and other cultural products that contribute to the economy, it became known as the cultural or more recently as the creative industries.

According to the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) the Creative Industries are [innovation led, knowledge-intensive and highly exportable] industry groups that contribute to [cultural diversity, social inclusion, environmental sustainability and technological advancement].

[Global industry]

Games media is one of the largest contributors to the creative industries globally, and there are major national games production centres in America, Japan, Korea and China, UK but also in smaller countries like Australia and New Zealand.

Game media has been a major driver of globalisation, not just in terms of the hardware that is largely produced in China and Korea, but also in terms of the intercultural flow between the West and the East, particularly between Japan and the US from the 1980s onward.

The global games media industry is a powerful engine of capitalism, with China rapidly becoming the most profitable market, specifically in the mobile sector.

Variety.com sites 2018 as a recording breaking year for box office revenue with $41 US Billion in global ticket sales.

https://variety.com/2019/film/news/box-office-record-disney-dominates-1203098075/

According to Ibisworld.com the global movie industry home entertainment revenue in 2018 was approximately $136 US Billion.

https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-trends/global-industry-reports/other-community-social-personal-service-activities/movie-production-distribution.html

[Industry Revenue]

Comparatively, Gamesindustry.biz sites a 2015 New Zoo study, which is probably somewhat conservative, estimating the global video game industry, according to gamesindustry.biz, to be worth $135bn in 2018 with revenues growing by over 10%, with mobile games accounting for almost half of that revenue ($63.2 billion). https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2018-12-18-global-games-market-value-rose-to-usd134-9bn-in-2018

Some interesting observations from that report include:

“…mobile accounts for the bulk of the industry’s revenue — 47% of it, in fact, at $63.2 billion (up 12.8% year-on-year).

“Smartphones led the way here with revenues of $50 billion (up 14.2%), while tablets accounted for $11.4bn (up 7.8%).

“Interestingly, tablet games account for 10% of the overall market, meaning $1 out of every $10 spent on games is on tablets.

“Of the three major sectors — mobile, PC and console — it was the latter that saw the biggest growth, with revenues increasing by 15.2% year-on-year to $38.3 billion.

“PC meanwhile accounts for 25% of the global games market — $1 for every $4 spent on video games — encompassing boxed, download and browser games. Revenues were reported as $33.4 billion, up 3.2% year-on-year.

Games revenue, particularly in the mobile sector, is not just pure sales of games but in virtual commodities: power-ups, unlocks, extra content, weapons and character skins, are just some of the massive market of virtual commodities that are part of the creative component of the games industry.

[Dominant Media]

The Dominant Media of the 19th century was the novel.

The Dominant Media of the 20th century was film and television.

The Dominant Media of the 21st century is video games.

(Dyson, Jon-Paul and Jeremy Saucier 2018 A History of Video Games in 64 Objects: World Video Game Hall of Fame.)

[Video Game Development]

We will return to the historical development of the studio production system, which video games inherited from film and television production, in later lectures, but it’s worth going through a brief primer up front.

Video game [development] is dominated by the studio system, which is replicated across film and television production, as well as software creation and many other creative industries.

[Publishers]

Many studios are owned by video game publishers, like [Electronic Arts] and Activision Blizzard or have specific relationships with publishers who fund the development process.

This is, of course, complicated by Hardware manufacturers who also manage publication licenses like Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.

[Distributors]

Similarly, publishers have complicated relationships with distributors and retail outlets – for example in the US the retail chain Walmart has enormous power in the video games industry as they can control what is sold on their shelves. The biggest change for the industry in the last two decades has been the rise of digital distribution, like [Steam] and of course Mobile app stores, which has reduced but not eliminated bricks-and-mortar stores.

[Advertisers]

It is also important not to overlook the role of advertising and marketing in the video game industry, as both an important and powerful creative industry in itself, but also in terms of the way it contributes to the way in which non-gamers come to understand game media.

[Players]

Players are often underestimated in this [linear] production chain and were once seen simply as the money, the consumer and often disregarded, but digital distribution changed that dramatically. Steam and websites like Metacritic, empowered the user, enabling the distribution of mods, supported player communities and led to developments like Kickstarter and green light which dramatically empowered independent game designers called [Indies].

[Non-linearity]

The internet shifted added new degrees of non-linearity and feedback into the production chain, enabling players to work directly in the [advertising and marketing] sector of the industry, talking back to [developers], and supporting [indies] directly, who now have [direct] access to players through digital distribution.

[Learning Assessment ]

So let’s look more closely at the structure of the subject and take in the details of the learning assessments.

The subject involves three learning assessments which all involve analysis of a game media analysis. As part of the subject, you are going to develop two [digital artefacts], one as a [group] and one as an [individual].

[Digital Artefact]

A Digital Artefact (DA) is a project through which you acquire and demonstrate digital literacies and skills in conceptualising and developing a publicly available media project which has meaning and utility for users and stakeholders outside of the subject.

Many of you will have participated in a digital artefact in previous subjects, in BCM114 and BCM112 and other subjects, but we also have students from outside the BCM and outside the Digital and Social Media major, who will be new to the concept.

A digital artefact is not an assessment that you can leave to the last minute or even the last week, it is a project that you need to work on over the course of the subject and contribute to weekly if not daily and you will be both pitching your project and providing a report on your progress through your blogs.

[BCM215 DA Focus]

You are able to continue working on your DA from other subjects however in BCM215 we have a specific focus that you must address in both the group DA and the individual DA:

The DA Focus is the critical analysis of a game media text or paratext.

Digital Artefacts may include video essays, short-podcasts, blog posts, social media platforms or services, cosplay, eSports and other digital game-related content such as live streams.

Innovative approaches and projects are encouraged and other ideas and approaches should be discussed with your tutor.

You can record extensively but the audio/visual material submitted for assessment must be limited to 10 minutes.

[FIST]

Your artefact’s development process should be guided by the fast, inexpensive, simple, tiny [FIST] design principles.

[Requirements]

Digital artefacts must:

1. Be publicly available online throughout their development;

2. Have clearly defined social utility;

3. Address the BCM215 Game Media Focus in some way.

[Blog Posts]

The DA’s in this subject are directly supported by Learning Assessment Task 1, the Blog Posts.  However in this subject, the blog posts have a number of mandatory requirements, the first is reflagging.

Participation in the subject means that you will post your blogs on your own WordPress site and then reblog you post to the [Game Cultures] subject blog.

There is a questionnaire on the Moodle site to add your WordPress username and the email attached to your WordPress account. You will be given access to the site as a contributing author in Week 2.

Post 1.

Your first blog post is due in Week 3 and it must be reblogged to the subject blog where you will see students work from BCM300 Game Making.

Post 1 is actually a video blog, and you are required to record and embed via YouTube, a brief account of your project plan.

[Pitch Video]

The pitch video will address: 1. the project plan (what you intend to do); 2. the media format you will be utilising (video essay, livestream, blog post, creative piece, podcast, social media platform, cosplay, etc); 3. the potential sources for background research (academic and scholarly sources, news and media sources); 4. and address the utility of your approach (including details of your content schedule, feedback loop and relevance to users).

The accompanying Contextual Blog Post of 250 words (minimum) should not repeat information presented in the pitch. The post is your opportunity to share background information through relevant research, including news and popular media, as well as academic and scholarly sources, which must be linked. Harvard style referencing of sources is highly recommended but not mandatory. To be assessed your pitch must be posted on your personal blog and reblogged to the subject blog.

[Post 2. Comments and Critical-Self Reflection]

Due Friday Week 4 by 11pm. 23/08/2019 Blog Post (500 words)

Each pitch will have three students scheduled to provide feedback, this means you will comment on three different pitches.

In your second blog post, you will summarise your three pitch comments and provide evidence of your engagement.

[Comments]

The post will offer a very brief overview of the pitch and a critical self-reflection of your comments with links as evidence of the contribution.

Each comment is expected to engage in further research including news and popular media sources and academic and scholarly sources (such as journal articles and books) and contribute directly to the DA in some way.

Critical self-reflection means that we are interested in what you did to be a part of the feedback and iteration cycle.

What did you contribute?

How did you engage with the post?

What research did you offer?

How useful was your suggestion and how might you be more engaging and provide better feedback in the second round of comments?

All work must be submitted to the Moodle dropbox using the assessment template. The template is available via the ‘Assessment Template Folder on the Moodle site. Work missing the template will not be graded.

[Group Digital Artefact]

The group digital artefact will be assessed as Learning Assessment Task 3 which will be presented in-class in Weeks 10, 11, and 12 and has two components, the GDA and the live presentation.

[Component 1.]

The critical analysis of a game media text or paratext will involve a digital artefact of some form: this might be a video essay or a short podcast, or it might be based around a live-streaming or live-tweeting session, a cosplay event or eSport competition.

Other ideas and proposals for the DA format should be negotiated with your tutor. Innovative ideas are encouraged. The audio/video components of the GDA to be shared in class should not exceed 10 minutes. NOTE: A link to the GDA should be posted to the subject blog prior to the in-class presentation.

[Component 2.]

The in-class presentation should expand on and augment the GDA by discussing the relevant research, subject content, and further analytical dimensions. It should address the methodology of the analysis and relevant theories, concepts and critiques.

Each individual group member should contribute to the GDA and outline their contribution during the live presentation.

NOTE: The group should also lead a short discussion with the class addressing relevant topics, concepts, issues and feedback.

The entire presentation including the GDA should not exceed 25 minutes, including discussion and questions.

[Reading]

Getting the most out of the subject involves doing further research and reading, and while I won’t get to fully direct the readings in the lectures or the tutorials, they will help expand your understanding and your familiarity with well researched critical analysis of game media.

[Week 1.] Reading: Swalwell, Melanie 2007. The Remembering and the Forgetting of Early Digital Games: From Novelty to Detritus and Back Again. Journal of Visual Culture, 6(2), 255-273.

[Week 2.] Reading: Huhtamo, Erkki 2005. Slots of Fun, Slots of Trouble: An Archaeology of Arcade Gaming. Handbook of Computer Games Studies, edited by Joost Raessens & Jeffrey Goldstein. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press. File

[Thanks for Playing!]